(Photo: Quantum Mechanix)
Hey, everybody. It’s Chris Tobias, co-founder of Take Back the Sky. I usually don’t post on our blog under my own name, but I feel the need to take personal responsibility for this one, and by that I mean both for what I’m about to say and for the social media post that gave me reason to say it.
On November 25, I tweeted an article by the Smithsonian on Take Back the Sky‘s Twitter feed about Mike Hughes, a self-taught rocket scientist who designed and built his own rocket, which he planned to launch this weekend with himself as a pilot. My comment on the tweet was: “This is the #Browncoats spirit!” You can still see the original tweet on Take Back the Sky‘s Twitter feed. It has not been deleted, and we have no plans to do so.
That in and of itself is relatively innocuous, but that’s not the whole story, of course. You see, Mr. Hughes was going to all this trouble because he was hoping that it would help to prove his belief that the Earth is flat! The article also stated that afterwards he planned to run for governor, which is somewhat eccentric, to say the least. I thought it was obvious that my admiration was solely for his gumption in designing, building, launching and piloting his own rocket. I should have known better.
This morning I got an e-mail from Take Back the Sky‘s other co-founder, Jeff Cunningham. He wanted to know if the tweet got the same amount of attention on Twitter that the cross-post had generated on our Facebook page (it hadn’t). According to Jeff, my posting of this one article had generated more discussion and comments than 99% of the other things we’ve ever posted to our Facebook page, and most of it wasn’t very positive. When I tweeted “This is the #Browncoats spirit!” I was referring to the fact that Mike Hughes was willing to do something against seemingly impossible odds because he believed strongly in a cause, even if the majority didn’t agree with him. But when I looked at the comments on Facebook, it was obvious that people were focusing on the fact that he believed in a flat Earth and was not a proponent of science, even though he was obviously making use of science in order to accomplish what he had set out to do.
In his e-mail Jeff made it clear that he did not see how Mike Hughes’ flight, or the Smithsonian‘s coverage of it, advanced an anti-science agenda. The Smithsonian is the last institution that either of us would accuse of that, and Jeff and I agreed that should be quite evident in the tone of their article. While I was relieved that he understood the motivation behind my posting it, he was obviously concerned that now some of our followers might actually believe that we were anti-science (despite over six years of statements to the contrary on this site, as well as Facebook and Twitter) just because we praised this man’s actions, even if we were viewing them independent (no pun intended) of his motivations. So I decided to take a closer look at the comments, and was very disappointed by what I saw.